Christian Symbols

God's people have always used symbols to express their faith. In this article, I take a look at six Christian symbols; five that are man-made and one designed by God Himself.

by William L. Nowell
Messianic Seal
Sign of Fish
Nazarene + Cross symbol

Symbols of Faith

One Way

Throughout the centuries, followers of Yeshua (Jesus) have designed a variety of symbols to express elements of their faith. Some symbols come from nature, such as the lamb, representing Christ, or the dove depicting the Holy Spirit. A number of them are artistic, though sometimes puzzling Christograms such as the chi-rho symbol. Though some remain popular, others are all but forgotten. Several ancient symbols date back to the time of the Apostles, but a few are modern, e.g. the "One Way" symbol popularized during the Jesus Movement (circa 1970). So now let's begin our look at Christian symbols with the most iconic emblem of the faith.

The Cross

Cross silhouette

The cross is without a doubt the most widely recognized Christian symbol, but it's not always been that way. We should keep in mind that to first-century Christians, the cross represented death by crucifixion; a slow and agonizingly painful method of execution. And though their perception of the cross may seem foreign to us, it's only reasonable that they would not embrace a symbol of death to represent their faith. So what changed? How did the cross become the predominant symbol of Christianity?

For three centuries Christians sporadically endured Roman persecution. From 30 A.D. to 311 A.D., at least 12 Roman Emperors specifically targeted Christians. Some of the more infamous Emperors were Caligula (37–41), Nero (54–68), Domitian (81–96), Decius (249–251), and Diocletian (284–305) who led the "Great Persecution" with the goal of totally eradicating Christianity. Christians had no relief until the conversion of Emperor Constantine (306–337). After his conversion to Christianity, Constantine abolished crucifixion as a method of enforcing the death penalty. In addition, he promoted the cross as a symbol of the Christian faith, making it an immensely popular symbol. And so, what was once a rather unlikely symbol of faith has become the predominant symbol of the Christian faith.

Christian flag

The Christian flag, displaying a red cross on a blue and white background, dates back to 1897. The three colors of the flag represent key tenants of the Christian faith. The flag's red cross symbolizes the blood shed by Christ on the cross at Calvary; the color blue represents loyalty and truth; while the color white represents purity and peace. The Christian flag's pledge of allegiance is as follows.

“I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty for all who believe.”

Sign of the Fish


As we've seen, the early days of the church were times of intense persecution that often ended in death. During this time, followers of Yeshua (Jesus) were rightly reluctant to associate themselves with the cross. To them, the cross was a tool executioners used to torture and execute their victims. And so for these persecuted, adopting the cross as a Christian symbol was simply not an option. Consequently, they needed some other way to covertly identify themselves to others in the “underground church.” And they found the perfect password in the inconspicuous drawing of a fish.

According to one popular story, when a follower of Yeshua (Jesus) met a stranger, the Christian would draw the first half of the fish on the ground. If the stranger completed the drawing, they knew they were both believers. Since the fish symbol was completely innocuous and easy to spot on safe meeting places for Christians.

In time, the fish symbol gradually died out. However, the “sign of the fish” reemerged in the 1970s as part of the Jesus Movement. It has since grown in popularity and is routinely used as a decal on the rear of automobiles. Some variations of the sign of the fish contain the name Jesus, a cross, or the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ in the center.

fish with cross

The Greek word for fish is “ichthus”, which when spelled in all capital letters, is ΙΧΘΥΣ. This word “ΙΧΘΥΣ” is an acronym made from the first letter of five Greek words: Iesous, Xristos, Theou, Yios, Sotare which translates as Jesus Christ, God's Son, [our] Savior.

The Anchor

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6:19

In ancient times, the anchor came to symbolize safety in times of storm. And so, for Believers living in times of intense persecution, there was no more appropriate symbol of hope than the anchor. And indeed, the 1st century was a stormy time for Believers. Predating the cross as a Christian symbol, the anchor symbolizes the hope we have in Christ beyond this life. And though we may endure the storms of life, we can rest assured that our souls are safe in the hands of our Savior.

ancient anchor

The book of Hebrews metaphorically connects the idea of hope (i.e. confident assurance) to a strong and secure anchor. In Hebrews 6:19, the writer describes this hope we have as "an anchor of the soul." And gravesites of Christians from the first through third centuries clearly show they embraced the concept of an anchor for the soul. Catacombs and tombs frequently displayed anchor symbols along with epitaphs of hope for eternal life.

The anchor as a Christian symbol died out in the early 4th century. This is about the same time Emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan (313 AD) which legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Subsequently, the cross replaced the anchor as a symbol of the Christian faith.

Messianic Seal

Messianic seal

Yeshua did not come to start a new religion. Thus, what we call Christianity today began as a sect of Judaism known as the Way, (see Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22) aka the sect of the Nazarenes (see Acts 24:5). What's more, the first followers of Yeshua were all Jewish believers. Of course, we know that from God's perspective, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (see Romans 10:12). Nevertheless, if we want to nitpick, then it is the birth of the Jewish church we find in Acts chapter 2. It is not until Acts chapter 10 that we see the birth of the Gentile church with the conversion of Cornelius and his household.

Therefore, it's only natural that the first Christians would identify with familiar symbols from Judaism. And so that brings us to the Messianic seal as a Christian symbol. It is a three-part symbol consisting of a menorah at the top and a fish symbol at the bottom. The center portion of the seal is a Star of David formed by overlapping the base of the menorah with the tail of the fish. The Messianic seal appears on cups and other implements used in the church at Jerusalem, where James the brother of Yeshua, served as leader.

The Nazarene Symbol

Mark of the Nazarene

In 2014, ISIS began marking Christian homes and businesses with the Arabic letter ن (pronounced "noon") painted in red. The letter ن is equivalent to the letter 'N' in English and stands for “Nasara” or “Nazarenes”; which ISIS used as a pejorative word for Christians. From that time on, the Christian “infidels” had but three choices, (1) convert to Islam, (2) pay an exorbitant tax and live as second class citizens, or (3) face 'death by the sword.' Thus began the Iraqi Christian genocide. But what ISIS meant as a symbol of shame, many have adopted as a symbol of solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. We may not all face the threat of an Islamic caliphate, but at the end of the day we are still Nazarenes. #WeAreN.

The Menorah

Unlike man-made symbols of faith, the menorah is the only symbol designed by God Himself. We find the first mention of the menorah in Exodus 25:31-40 where God gave Moses precise instructions for making the menorah—aka the “lamp of God” (see 1 Samuel 3:3). “Menorah” is a Hebrew word adopted into English similar to the Hebrew word hallelujah; which simply means to “praise the lord”. The English translation of the word menorah is lampstand. However, in my opinion, the word lampstand (or worse, “candlestick” in some Bible translations) is somewhat misleading. And that's because I doubt that most people think of a lampstand as being a seven-branched candelabrum (i.e. a menorah). But as we can clearly see, the “lampstand” described in Exodus is actually a menorah.


The menorah played a central role first in the wilderness tabernacle, and then later in the Holy Temple. As a result, many people see the menorah only as a symbol of Judaism. Still, others believe the menorah symbolizes Israel's mission as a "light to the (Gentile) nations." And they base their belief on Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:6 (c.f. Acts 13:47). But what does Yeshua's (Jesus') say about the menorah? To understand Yeshua's (Jesus') perspective on the menorah we need to turn to the final book of the Bible.

In the first chapter of Revelation, we find Yeshua (Jesus) walking among seven golden “lampstands”, i.e. menorahs. But this begs the question “what do the golden menorahs symbolize?” For a lot of people understanding the oftentimes cryptic imagery of the book of Revelation is problematic. But there's no mystery about the meaning of the golden menorahs. This is because Yeshua (Jesus) clearly tells us that the golden menorahs represent the churches (see Revelation 1:20). The symbolism is perfect considering how Yeshua (Jesus) saw His disciples.

In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Yeshua said to the disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16.) Since we (the church) are the light of the world, what better symbol is there to represent the church than a pure gold menorah shining God's perfect light into all the world? Since Yeshua (Jesus) describes His redeemed church as menorahs, then in my opinion that makes the menorah the ultimate Christian symbol.


From roughly 1430 B.C. to 2015 A.D. saints of God have used symbols to express their faith. In this article, I've discussed just six symbols of the Christian faith. There are dozens of other symbols, some ancient and others brand new, some forgotten and others rediscovered, but each meaningful in its own unique way. What is your favorite symbol and what does it mean to you?

Three Crosses